Abstinence from Products of Slave Labor.

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Abstinence from Products of Slave Labor.


Abstinence from Products of Slave Labor. 

The question now arises, How far might we abstain from the products of slave-labor? The people of New England, were they united on it, could abstain from those products totally—and that to their own incalculable benefit, and to the slave's deliverance. Unlearned as we are in commercial science, we feel no danger in setting down this statement, that the commerce between New England and the slaveholding states, is in its aggregate, immensely to New England's loss in property, health, life, and virtue . In evidence of this, let us consider the principal articles of slave produce imported into our section of country, especially from the southern states, Begin with.

Tobacco—With the smoke of which our land is clouded, and with the juice of which it flows. The vast amount of this article consumed in New England, is the product of slave-labor, principally from the southern states, and the rest mostly from Cuba, where slavery exists in its worst degree, it being common to “ work the slaves off” (to death) in ten years from their arrival from their home in Africa, upon that bloody island. All that our consumers pay for tobacco, is so much clear loss, pecuniarily, while the loss suffered in health and morals by this consumption, is beyond the computation of the arithmetician. The loss in mere dollars, by southern trade, in the particular of tobacco, might be expressed by millions, and by yet higher numbers; but the health, and the life, and the virtue destroyed by it, admits not of computation or measurement. Will not these losses by this single article of southern trade, go far to balance whatever profits may be realized in other articles imported from the southern states? Will they not overbalance all that may be gained, (we speak of consumers, by trade in any other article, or in all other articles of southern produce?

Cotton. In view of the great amount of this article manufactured and consumed in New England, of the many persons its manufacture employs, and of the great amount of clothing it furnishes, it may, at first, seem that the advantages realized from the importation of this article of southern produce, the produce of the slave's toil, is great. It might, at first thought, seem that this branch of southern trade is indispensable. But is it really so? Time has been, when the people of New England subsisted without cotton factories. Have they gained, or have they lost by the change which has taken place? Are the people of New England, in the aggregate, in better circumstances than they would have been, had not one bale of cotton of southern production yet been manufactured among us? The full discussion of the question would be a theme for the occupancy of volumes. Of course we can only start the inquiry, and suggest a few hints. What if the former custom of household manufacture of clothing had been kept up, and the men, women and children, who have been employed in cotton factories, had been engaged in cultivating our own soil, rearing herds and flocks, operating the household wheels and looms—what if this had continued in New England until now? What have been the advantages of the change! Why, rich capitalists have become richer; many persons engaged in the factories, have become rich or fore handed, female operatives especially, have obtained large wages and laid up money; our population has been supplied with cloth at a price deemed much cheaper than that at which it could be manufactured in the household manner; villages have been built up; a ready market for the produce of our farmers has been opened in hundreds of places; and the sphere of business and trade has been greatly enlarged. Against these pecuniary benefits may be set down the pecuniary losses by the factory system, the manufacture of slave-produced cotton among us. We may safely calculate these losses to be large. The neglected cultivation of the soil, caused by the introduction of factories extensively in New England, is a very great loss to the real interests of the country. The cultivation of the soil is the grand productive source of the necessaries of life. In proportion to the neglect of this, is the essential wealth of the country diminished. The extensive manufacture of cotton produced by slave-labor, has diminished the cultivation of our soil far below what it would otherwise have been, and thus has detracted greatly from this true source of a people's wealth. From the same cause, domestic, household manufacture, has been greatly neglected. The substantial home-made fabrics, produced and wrought by families “ within themselves” have giver place to foreign articles, which, though purchased at a price seemingly below the expense of home-made, have in reality cost the consumers far more, in the process by which they are paid for by them. This will, upon examination, be found true of purchased articles that are really necessary in the absence of home-made; but add to this the immense superfluity and extravagance, in the matter of clothing especially, which is introduced by the substitution of foreign for homespun clothing, and by our thousands and ten thousands of young women leaving the distaff and the household wheel and loom for the cotton factories—and the absolute loss to the country, caused by this change, will be found to be immense. Might it not be found, could all the gains and losses, of a pecuniary kind connected with the manufacture of slave-produced cotton be accurately computed, that, to the people of New England generally, the losses would fully balance and over balance the gains? Has not the Author of all good so formed the economy of things, as to forbid a general and permanent prosperity, even pecuniarily, in participating the fruits of injustice? And it is beyond disputation, that the cotton for our factories is procured by the most gross injustice. It cries to God against the slave holder and all that are accessories in the enslavement and robbery of those whose labors produce it and who are the rightful proprietors of it. Is there not a curse upon this and all the products of extorted and unpaid labor, which will, generally, attach itself to all that share in them?

But what amount of pecuniary advantages will balance against the expenditure of health, life, intellect, and virtue, which is made in manufacturing the cotton, “ drenched in the tears and blood of the slave.” The factories in New England, in which this ill-gotten material is wrought up, are so many sepulchres in which is entombed the health of the ten thousands of operatives, with few exceptions. In thousands of instances they prove speedily to those who enter them, the ante-chambers to death. Thousands and thousands of New England's daughters, in the flower of their life, have withered, and sunk prematurely to the tomb, by the life-destroying influences of the factory system, as it is conducted in this country. What amount of pecu. niary gain would compensate for these lives? Ask mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters, who have followed the stricken victims to their early graves. In the pallid countenances of the multitudes of factory operatives, on the premature graves of their thousands of victims already fallen, do we not read the curse fixed in the righteous laws of Nature upon the fruits of iniquity, to be shared by those who participate in such fruits? Righteous retribution is interwoven in all the natural, as well as the moral universe; and naturally, as well as judiciously, our “ sins do find us out,” even our sins of ignorance. The way of righteousness is the path of life; and the way of sin against God and of wrong against our fellow men, is the way of death. The cotton manufactured in New England is the price of the bodies, the lives and the souls of men, and a retributive curse follows it to the remotest transfer—except in the case of those who repay the slave for what they share of his labors. Add to the destruction in health and life, the effect this system has on the intellectual and moral character of thousands, and there is an amount of evil, for which, in our view, no pecuniary advantages can compensate. Not that extensive manufactories could not be carried on without these incomputable losses. No: we trust there will be a change, a reform: but if it ever comes, it will be effected by the same spirit of benevolence and righteousness that will set the slave free, and that will make the material for their fabrications to be the product of free compensated labor The spirit of emancipation is already aroused to a zealous effort for procuring supplies of cotton from other sources than slave labor; especial efforts are making for its growth in India.

Grains and Sugars.—We have heard some of our people at the north argue, or rather alledge, that New England could not be supplied with bread stuffs without the corn and flour and rice bought of the south, and which are produced by slave-labor. If the labor and the money expended by the people of New England in the purchase of bread stuffs from the slave states were appropriated to the cultivation of our own New England soil, would it not furnish us more plentifully with bread, than it does by southern trade, and do far more to increase the actual wealth of the people? As to sugars, a far larger quantity is consumed than is compatible with the health and other interests of the people. And a necessary supply of sugar might be furnished from our maples, from the beet, and imported from the freed West India Islands and other places where it is produced by free labor.

In making up the account of loss and gain by our commerce with slaveholders, the demoralizing influence of such commerce upon the people of the free states, should constitute a heavy item in the loss of the latter. Evil communications corrupt good manners. The trade of the north with the south has had much to do in working that extensive destruction of the genuine principles of freedom and the pro-slavery feeling and sentiment of the people of the north; an evil for which pecuniary gains cannot compensate. We would enlarge upon this topic, but for want of room. Let the reader enlarge for himself in the consideration of this important point.

But however great the loss incurred by trade with slaveholders, in the aggregate or in particular commodities, and however practicable it would be for the people of New England to desist totally from that trade, were they all united in the object—they will not all unite in it, and it therefore remains for individuals, who, on the principle of David's abstinence, as quoted in the preceeding number, would not live upon the tears and blood of the slave and upon the price of his soul, to abstain from the products of his enslavement as far as possible, and in cases where, (from the participation in slavery in which the whole land is plunged by commercial intercourse so extensively carried on,) abstinence is impracticable, to see that he rerders an equivalent service for the slave. Many articles of slave produce that we have been accustomed to use, we can do without, or procure the same kind, produced by free labor By stern principle, care and pains-taking, with self-denial, we may, as individuals, come near to total abstinencefrom the fruits of slavery. As individuals we may preserve our souls pure from the price of blood, and bear the effictual testimony of this abstinence. And associations may be formed—a beginning is already commenced—they may be multiplied and extended, so as to greatly diminish the consumption of slave-labor produce, and to afford a powerful testimony. Let every individual friend of the slave, be faithful to the slave, to himself and to God in this matter. “ Keep thyself pure.”—Morning Star .


National Anti-Slavery Standard, reprinted from Morning Star




“Abstinence from Products of Slave Labor.,” No Stain of Tears and Blood, accessed June 21, 2024, http://productsoffreelabor.com/items/show/244.

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